COLLEGE STATION — People who want to hunt the vast ranges for Texas wildlife — whether by gun, binoculars or camera — might try the World Wide Web to narrow the search.
The Natural Resources and Economic Development homepage offers an organized approach to finding out how best to make use of the state’s vast resources, according to a Texas Agricultural Extension Service specialist who developed the page.
“This gives the general public a way to access information on fishing, hunting and birding all in one place, whether they need to know about hunting leases or when the next birding festival is,” said Dr. Jack Thigpen, associate professor of rural sociology and Extension specialist in community development. “Also, people who work for other agencies can use the data part of the home page, such as the acres of leased land or deer habitat, to help design educational programs and see how the numbers change over time.”
The home page is at http://acs.tamu.edu/~econdev/ For wild game harvesters, the site provides the 1995 hunting lease acreage figures by county in 5-year increments from 1975-95. Thigpen hopes to add the data on an annual basis beginning with 1996 when those figures become available.
“If a statewide program is designed to get more people to use land for wildlife recreation, the data can be accessed to see changes in acres of habitat,” Thigpen suggested. “Hunters come to hunt, and they spend money with private landowners and rural community businesses, so this could help estimate how much income generated.”
The data shows, for example, that Edwards County has the largest deer population with more than 141,000 animals, but Webb County has the largest economic impact from all hunting with an estimated $9.25 million dollars annually. Such information might help landowners determine how to establish habitat that would encourage more wildlife and how to enhance income through hunting leases.
Wildlife researchers also can use the data to get an indication of whether habitat is being lost to urban encroachment, or if an educational program to encourage habitat plantings is working.
The county data also gives the estimated hunting economic impact, acres of habitat, estimated deer populations and number of hunter days.
Also linked to the site are several Texas maps such as one of counties by economic type, ecological regions of the state, percentage of land leased for hunting in each county, the change in hunting lease acreage by county over the last 10 years, and vegetation types of Texas.
Thigpen said this type of data is collected but hard to find because some agencies do not have World Wide Web access yet.
People interested in the natural resources of the western part of the state should examine the page’s link to TEXNET–Common Range Plants, designed by specialists at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center in San Angelo. This site allows the user to browse the Web for plants from the Edwards Plateau or Trans-Pecos regions. There also is a link to key seed-producing plants for quail, woody plants for wildlife, a section that helps identify grasses and information about types of plants that contaminate wool and mohair in Texas.
Thigpen plans to continue expanding the outdoor recreation available to encourage better use of the state’s natural resources.
“I would like to expand the hunting clearing house section to make it easier for people to find a place to hunt or go birding,” he said. “This provides information for hunters and birders, and they spend money in Texas communities.”